If there is one thing I’ve come to understand over the past few weeks, it’s that everything has to happen in it’s own time. Just because you may feel like you’re ready to get out there and take on the universe armed only with a sharp tongue and a broom handle doesn’t make it so.
As I’ve continued on my journey out the backend of the syphilitic camel that is depression, I’ve found my energy all over the place. Some days I’m 10 feet tall and bullet proof, others I’m a fragile Southern Belle taking to my bed with the vapours.
It’s a strange combination of moods that make each day a somewhat entertaining dance. At work I’m on top of it all. I’m bossy, demanding, exacting. A perfectionist who refuses to accept such well thought out and reasoned excuses such as “I’m busy,” as a reason for staff not doing things right the first time.
I have high standards. I always have had. For me and for those around me. Trying to lead people to reach the minimal expected standards I’ve set can be a bit like herding a room full of toddlers filled with red cordial. But it will happen. Sooner or later the turnaround in performance makes everyone think the changes were their idea. It’s a good thing.
At home it’s a similar story, except the only toddler in the room is a moody 42 year old man. He’s the worst person to try and wrangle. He bites, and kicks and takes offense when TV shows he wants to watch are on hiatus for an American public holiday. He wants his shoes off by 6pm and his dinner dishes washed by 7. And heaven defend the piece of paper that rides the house breezes onto the floor when their position in life is to sit on a table.
As the grip of the depression loosens up, it feels like I’m on the fastest roller coaster ride of catch up ever. I’ve become aware, probably too aware, of the amount of time I wasted in the last couple of years as I excelled at; lying on the bed, watching TV, drinking alcohol, eating chips, lying on the bed and generally being surrounded by noise.
I’ve heard people say that depression makes them want to hide in a dark, quiet room. I don’t get that. The quiet was the worst. It was when the voices and the feelings took hold and ran merry hell all over the place. Noise, all I wanted was noise. I hated the noise, but it drowned out the fear. It drowned out the possibility that silence was all I was going to endure for the rest of my life.
Last week I wrote about the little things that show the improvement you’ve made. I talked about getting on a downward escalator. How small normal, every day things I had avoided like maths homework, were now just slotting into daily life without being noticed until after.
For a week and two days I used that downward escalator. All of them. Every one I could find. It was sort of silly, but still I did it. I was making up for lost time I guess. Thursday I went to step on and freaked out. Started shaking, started sweating, my throat closed up. I had to actually step back for a second before forcing myself onto it.
“What the fuck,” I eloquently and calmly thought to myself “do you think you’re doing. Get on the damn escalator you silly old bitch.”
I continued discussing with myself in a calm and rational manner exactly what I thought of this silly behaviour. I was kind. I was considerate. I invented some rather colourful swears. As I walked onto the train platform I really started to sweat. Had they lowered the roof over night? Did the tunnel at the far end of the platform always waver and wobble like that? What was that strange high pitched noise?
As I got onto the train I gratefully thanked Sydney Trains for not having any discernible air conditioning available. I leant against the wall and as the carriage doors closed so did my throat. As the train pulled away from Mascot my brain went full on Sally Field in the scene at her daughters funeral in Steel Magnolia’s. It screamed, it cried, it looked to find Shirley McClain to bash up. It freaked out.
Somewhere in the mix of inner screaming, tears, threats to vomit and die right on the spot I managed to get hold of my brain. I kicked anxiety and panic into the corner and put cold, rational me in charge, the one my friends say is scary as hell when I’m arguing. They like hot burning, swearing, yelling me in an argument. Cold me could freeze the eyeballs out of a stone gargoyle apparently.
So I put cold me in charge. The sweating stopped. I realised that I had incorrectly judged Sydney Trains for there actually was air conditioning, it was just in my panicked state I didn’t feel it. Anxiety and panic hovered in the corner of my brain, clutching to each other and assuming that no one would come to their funeral and if they did they’d probably bring Carnations instead of yellow roses, because everyone knows yellow roses or orchids are my favourite so they’d grab a bunch of carnations at the service station on the way up instead.
They whimpered and they complained and they held their breath waiting to suffocate – hey, they’re not particularly smart – and when we reached Green Square they’d dozed off in exhaustion and Cold Me gave control to of my brain to rational me for the rest of the trip to work.
All of this happened in less than five minutes. It almost happened instantly. As soon I wrestled control back I noticed my body changed. My breathing slowed down, my sweating stopped. I no longer needed to run. I was content, damp with sweat, but content.
That stupid, micro panic attack irritated me all day long. Every time I thought about how close I had come to running home and calling in sick I got cold. Anxiety and panic have apparently decided to take a quick holiday in the South of my Brain, somewhere they can hide out until cold me stops looking for them for a calm and rational discussion.
Whatever triggered that panic the other day is beyond my ability to figure out. It was almost like I had been doing so well, I began to expect something would go wrong.
I made a deal with myself at the start of November that I wouldn’t take a day off work until the company closed for Christmas. The closer I get to the 18th of December the happier and more confident I am getting that I will achieve that goal. It’s not a big goal for anyone else, but for me it is. The closer I get to that goal the more I’m noticing little twitches, things that are focused on the fact I’ll fail in achieving it. I have 1 working day left to reach the 1st of December and then 17 days after it before we close for the rest of the year.
I honestly don’t know what seems to be scaring me more. That I will achieve the goal, or that I won’t. I think it’s that I will achieve it to be honest. Once a goal is achieved successfully, it puts more pressure on achieving the next one, and the one after that. Goals for me are more fluid, in that I think of one and then ignore it until I decide that I won’t achieve it, so what’s the point.
By the time I get to the 18th of December I will have achieved 2 goals. One is already mentioned, the other is not to miss a day of my medication. So far, as I begin the 3rd month of taking the tablets I’ve not missed a single one. Two goals achieved in such a small time span.
I’ve come to realise that for all the good and great little moments, you do have to remain vigilant against the less good ones that sneak in from time to time. There’s a myth that once the medication takes hold, you will be forever fine. That’s not the case. From time to time little things will crop up. It’s normal life. It’s how you deal with it that matters.
The medication gives me the strength to focus on situations as they arise. It gives me the ability to reassess what is happening in a less emotive and more logical way. It gives me the opportunity to weigh up the likelihood of worse case scenarios against the historical data and to take control of my behaviour and reactions in a way I couldn’t before.
But that daily little white pill isn’t a cure all. It doesn’t remove everything, just the inability to release when the brain gets bored and starts entertaining itself with ghost stories around the campfire.
Understanding it takes time, and that things move at their own pace is an important step in the recovery journey. I’m impatient, that’s a well established fact. I’m also a bossy perfectionist with myself, much more than with others.
To have to look at the realities and say; “okay kid, today started out a bit rough, let’s work on that,” isn’t something I’m used to.
To anyone out there who is going through a similar journey, or who is wondering what happens when the medication kicks in I’ll tell you this:
Medication is a balancing tool. It helps you to remove the emotive response. It allows you to look logically and rationally at what is occurring and allows you to decide whether you sink or swim. It is not a cure all. Recovery takes time, it takes commitment and it takes your buy-in.
Medication or not, the tools to recover your own strength are in your hands. Be grateful for the great days, be grateful for the good days, and be grateful for the days that aren’t so good because each one shows how far you’ve come.
Do things in your own sweet time. Don’t allow anyone else to dictate your recovery. Just because today you leapt a tall building in a single bound, doesn’t make tomorrow a failure if you only manage to leap to the first balcony before slamming face first into the glass.
Take your recovery seriously, and set small achievable goals. And, most importantly, achieve those goals in your own time. Life will still be there tomorrow, it doesn’t all have to be done today.